At Roof Above, we’ve helped over 1,200 people a day, 365 days a year, for over 30 years. We don’t often get to know what happens after someone moves on, so it is especially wonderful to hear a story like Chris Locklear’s which is, quite frankly, miraculous.
Chris grew up in Pembroke, as part of the Lumbee tribe, in what he described as a middle-class family. As a boy, he was bright, curious and part of the NASA science club with a dream to be an engineer. It wasn’t until high school that his life began to derail through drugs and alcohol. Chris remembers vividly the downward spiral that began in 10th grade. He went through an addiction treatment program but recovery was temporary. Eventually, Chris ended up experiencing homelessness in Charlotte.
Between 2002 and 2004, Chris cycled between the Urban Ministry Center (UMC) and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte (MSC). He talks about the bridges he slept under, the dumpsters he foraged in and the railroad tracks leading no way out. At times, Chris huddled under the I-277 bridge. “I just felt hopeless,” he said.
Slowly, the support offered began to take hold. The Narcotics Anonymous meetings at UMC were his first lifeline and Chris remembers attending the daily sessions with 20-30 other people. During one of his stays at the Men’s Shelter, it was a counselor named Billy Godwin who first tried to help Chris find hope. Billy spoke hard truth to Chris, “I see potential in you, but you have to want it for yourself.”
That began a winning streak in Chris’s life. A job at Walmart. An apartment for $120 a month. A new start at CPPC enrolling in engineering classes. But through a bad relationship, Chris went off track once again, losing his sobriety and a downward spiral of wrong decisions.
Almost nine years passed, cycling in and out of treatment and homelessness. Chris recalls his turning point in February 2009. He was walking in a snowstorm with no jacket, only the clothes on his back, and he remembers wanting to die. Chris didn’t want to live like this anymore. “I asked God once again, please, just don’t allow me to wake up.”
But Chris did wake up in a hospital where his life had once again been saved from alcohol poisoning and exposure on a frozen, snowy night. Chris remembers being in a rage as he discovered he didn’t die. “Looking back, it is funny how when I begged God to take me out of this world and he didn’t.”
It made Chris realize, “I had spent ten years destroying other people’s lives and my own. Now, it was time to give back.”
That is what Chris has spent the last ten years doing. He went back to school several times to earn three levels of nursing certification: CNA, LPN and RN. Along the way he made the President’s list with over a 4.0 GPA and earned scholarships to pay for all his education. As president of his LPN Nursing Class, Chris gave the graduation speech and ended up marrying Michelle, an incoming nursing student, who was in the audience that day and moved by his impassioned words. Now at 41, Chris is surrounded by the family he is creating as both a father and new grandfather.
All of that is a miracle, but here is the really great part. After all that struggle and all that hopelessness, Chris finally landed his “dream job.” He is now the Assistant Director of Nursing at HopeWay, Charlotte’s first residential mental health treatment center.
“I have been looking for this my whole life,” Chris said. “I can restore hope.”
Chris restores hope daily for clients at HopeWay but now, he also wants to offer hope at Roof Above as well. He wants to volunteer to help others experiencing homelessness know there is a way out.
Chris gets choked up when he talks about a special Christmas present from his wife, Michelle. She photographed his past—the bridge he slept under, the dumpsters, the Urban Ministry Center, and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte. This framed photo collection hangs in their home as a reminder of how far he has come. Chris describes it as his daily reflection. “I never want to forget I made it out.”
Chris thinks about all the times he asked God to take his life and about the Garth Brooks song, Unanswered Prayers. “I am so glad God didn’t answer my prayers to die,” Chris says. “He had a better plan.”
A Roof Above Board member, Kathy Izard writes inspirational nonfiction books including The Hundred Story Home which chronicles more stories of the hope of housing and paths out of homelessness. www.kathyizard.com